Salt Lake City, UT – Kevin Groves gives son, Gabriel, 6, a steroid shot as his eighteen-month-old Michael Groves clenches his fingers into a claw and covers his mouth to sign “scary” when he sees his mother packing.
The family’s five members have become transients since they abandoned their Taylorsville house in September, moving to Michael’s grandmother’s home and then to a friend’s sparsely furnished Holladay house in search of a place where the three kids could breathe safely.
But this time – as Mandalina Groves tries to explain to her son, Michael – they’re done moving. “We’re going to have a home again,” she says.
The Lehi-based Heart2Home Foundation is tearing down the Groveses’ 1980s rambler – which is contaminated with black mold and inconveniently laid out for the family’s health needs – and building a new house in 10 days. It’s Utah’s own version of the television hit “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
But it’s much better than TV for Gabriel, 6, Gavin, 3, and Michael – not to mention Mom and Dad, who will get their own bedroom for the first time in years.
In Taylorsville, Mandalina and her husband, Kevin, began sleeping in their basement family room, drawing a curtain around their bed, after twice discovering Gabriel nearly comatose at the bottom of the stairs, unable to climb to his parents’ bedroom as he went into adrenal failure. Gabriel has a rare brain tumor that causes seizures, asthma, sleep apnea and limited vision.
Gavin, who turns 4 this month, has breathing problems, severe allergies, a weak immune system and eats most of his food through a tube. Michael also suffers from seizures and allergies. So their parents set up camp in the basement, where everyone could sleep within earshot. That worked until September, when they ripped up a piece of flooring and discovered black mold covering layers of particle board, linoleum and tile throughout the house.
The Groves went to stay with Mandalina’s mother, thinking it was just for the night, but they never returned. An environmental specialist determined the spores likely were exacerbating the kids’ health problems. Eliminating the mold would cost $50,000 – the Groves’ homeowners insurance allowed for $5,000.
Even with remediation, doctors feared the chemicals used to clean the house would make it unsafe for the boys. It wasn’t financially possible, either. Kevin, a personal trainer, is going to school full time to be a nurse, and the family was strapped for cash. “We were going to have to walk away from the house,” Mandalina says. “It could [have been] years before we were in a home again.”
Kevin and Mandalina began to see their sons’ health improve within three weeks of leaving their Taylorsville home. Michael, whose development had slowed, was a year old, but couldn’t sit up or crawl. He quickly began standing up on his own. Now, he walks and is starting to talk.
Gabriel, who often fell asleep during the day and needs steroids to keep his body going, was able to stay awake longer and take less medication. Gavin began eating on his own more often.
Heart2Home receives a number of applications for help, President Greg Adamson says, but the Groves’ plea “just grabbed everybody.” “It was such an amazing story,” he says, “to hear the mother tell the story of the kids fighting for their lives.”
Heart2Home has enlisted the help of other foundations and companies to raise enough money and donated service and labor to build a $300,000 to $350,000 home on the Groves’ lot. Foote Homes is the volunteer contractor. A few hundred skilled laborers will work for free, too. Demolition starts Monday, and the Groves get to move in March 26.
“It’s unbelievable. I can’t even imagine how I’m going to feel,” walking into a new house. Mandalina says. “How am I going to say thank you to everybody?”